The Golden State Warriors followed winning three of the last four NBA championships by signing DeMarcus freaking Cousins for the midlevel exception, so we’ll enter the 2018-19 season with A) the Dubs heavily favored to three-peat and B) everybody outside the Bay Area looking toward the horizon in search of something that will derail and dismantle the NBA’s operating dynasty. The most frequently cited source of future fissures: the seeming impossibility, in a league subject to a salary cap and featuring an extremely punitive progressive luxury tax system, that the Warriors are going to be able to keep paying all of their stars.
Last summer, Golden State locked up franchise centerpiece Stephen Curry on a five-year, full-freight maximum contract, and ponied up to bring back integral reserves Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, thanks in part to Kevin Durant agreeing to a deal that paid him $10 million less than the maximum salary he could have commanded. This summer, the Warriors re-signed Durant to a two-year, $61.5 million deal, ensuring that Steve Kerr will once again have a full complement of marauding firepower at his disposal in pursuit of a fourth title in five years. The real roster-management problems could start next summer, when All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson — the famed “no maintenance” sniper and defensive ace who complements Curry in the backcourt and helps make Golden State’s systems hum on both ends — is set to enter unrestricted free agency.
Klay Thompson’s contract could be a massive turning point for the Warriors
Sure, Thompson has made it pretty plain in the past that he’s interested in doing “anything I can do to stay with the Warriors,” and has reportedly discussed the parameters of a contract extension that would keep him in the Bay for years to come at a much more team-friendly rate than he’d likely command on the open market. But hey, things can change fast in the NBA. (Just ask Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan.) Depending on how this season shakes out, and if the Warriors’ front office starts to focus more on retaining other key pieces (like Durant, who will hold a player option for 2019-20, allowing him to re-enter free agency next summer, or 2020 free-agent-to-be Draymond Green) or setting the table to lure yet another superstar (hey there, Anthony Davis), couldn’t Thompson find himself wondering what life might look like in a more primary role at a higher pay grade in another city?
That’s the thinking among those waiting for the crash, anyway. Alas, according to a source close to Klay Thompson — that is, his father, former NBA player, NBA radio commentator and social media bon vivant Mychal Thompson — there’s nothing doing on that front. As he said at a charity event this weekend, he expects his son to stay in a Warriors uniform for a long, long time, according to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle:
“Oh yeah, you can mark it down,” Mychal Thompson said at a party to promote the Thompson Family Foundation’s first charity golf tourney. “Klay’s going to retire in the Warriors’ uniform. He’s going to play at Chase Center [the Warriors’ San Francisco arena, opening in 2019], and he’s not going to be at Chase Center as a visiting player, he’s going to be a Warrior for the next seven or eight years.” […]
“He’s got such a good thing here,” Mychal Thompson said. “The Warriors have such a special thing here. For the next six or seven years, they’re going to be championship material, they’re not going to break that up. The Bulls [with Michael Jordan] were broken up too prematurely. Joe Lacob and Peter Guber aren’t going to let that happen. Are you kidding? They can afford it. They’re the Warriors, this is the Bay Area, they got a beautiful arena, and money’s no object for this team.”
‘I would like to be a Warrior for life’
The man himself was a little less hard and fast with the proclamations than his dad, but Klay struck a similar tone in a Saturday conversation with Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group:
“I’ve said it many times before: I would like to be a Warrior for life,” Thompson told Bay Area News Group before hosting a party at Hotel Vitale as a prelude to his first annual Thompson Family Foundation Golf Tournament on Sunday at TPC Harding Park. “Contract negotiations are way down the line. But I think we all have the same interest. I would love to be here for the rest of my career.”
To ensure that, would Thompson entertain securing an extension with the Warriors before or during the 2019-20 season? Or would Thompson prefer to become a free agent in 2019, potentially to maximize his earnings?
“It’s tough to say,” Thompson said. “I’d definitely be interested. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be a free agent in 2019. Number one on my list would obviously be to stay with the Warriors.”
From the outside, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense for Thompson to ink an extension this year before hitting the unrestricted market next summer. He’d be sacrificing a lot of money by going that route.
Signing an extension vs. hitting the open market
According to Larry Coon’s indispensable NBA Salary Cap FAQ, extensions of veterans’ contractors can cover a maximum of five years, including any years on the deal being extended; Thompson’s got one left, so he could only go for four more after that. On top of that, his salary in the first year of the extension would be capped at 120 percent of his previous salary — he’s set to make $18,988,725 this season, in the final year of a deal he signed before the salary cap boom of 2016 — meaning the most Thompson could make on an extension of his current deal would be about $102.1 million through 2023. By waiting until next summer to sign a new contract, Thompson would put himself in line for a five-year deal worth as much as $187.9 million from the Warriors, or a four-year deal worth up to $139.3 million from another team, as laid out a few months back by salary cap expert Albert Nahmad.
Moving now, then, would lock in security, but at the cost of accepting far less than he’s worth in pursuit of that goal. Thompson left a few million bucks on the table in his first negotiation with the Warriors; his four-year extension in 2014 looked like a max deal, but wasn’t actually pegged to the salary cap, so as the cap rose higher than expected, he earned $69 million rather than $73 million he would’ve gotten with a standard max agreement. This, however, would be a drastically different amount of money to leave on the table.
How much might Klay be willing to sacrifice to keep the good times rolling?
Maybe that doesn’t much matter in this case. As Marcus Thompson III of The Athletic wrote back in May, “The choice between $150 million in a place he doesn’t know or $110 million in a place he knows he loves — it isn’t that hard for Thompson, those close to him say […] Thompson likes peace. He likes easy. He likes what he has.” It calls to mind the comments Green made earlier this summer about his decision to take less than his maximum possible salary in 2015:
“I think my max was $96 million,” Green [said]. “That money is not changing my neighborhood. It’s probably $6 million after taxes and fees. It’s not changing my neighborhood, but championships can. Championships can change my life.
“So it’s about what’s important to you. And I knew how important it was to me and the opportunity we could have if I did what I did. And I didn’t need [Warriors general manager] Bob [Myers] to explain that to me. Bob never once explained that to me. I knew it going in. So that’s where I based my negotiations at. The number I asked for, I got.”
Whether Thompson likes it all enough to forsake that much money — after word rumbled out about the team-friendly extension conversations, Mychal Thompson said that “negotiations will probably continue in the summer of ’19,” suggesting Klay wasn’t in too big a rush to get it all over with — and whether Thompson, too, will be able to get whatever number he asks for both very much remain to be seen. For now, though, both the unassuming guard and his more vocal dad continue to say he’s not going anywhere, and Warriors ownership continues to say they’ll keep footing the bill to keep dominating for as long as possible.
Translation: keep searching for that stumbling block, everybody. Failing to pay Klay probably isn’t going to be it.
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